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English Language Learners

English-Language Learners: Unlike other states with large numbers of English-language learners, Texas has not established a single, statewide process for schools to identify and assess those students and redesignate them as fluent in English, according to an examination of states’ policies for English-language learners.

The study–conducted by Boston University political science professor Christine Rossell and published by the Arlington, Va.-based Lexington Institute–examined six states that have the largest numbers of English-language learners. California has the largest number, followed by Texas, Florida, Arizona, Illinois, and New York. The study also examined Massachusetts.

High schools could do a better job teaching English-language learners by changing some traditional practices, suggests a policy brief by the Linguistic Minority Research Institute of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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The policy brief identifies five myths about educating English-learners and tells how to overcome them. One myth, the brief says, is that school time frames for completion of high school are sacred. Norm Gold, a longtime educational specialist for English-language learners who wrote the brief, recommends expanding the time provided for high school from four to five years for English-language learners who want the extra time and need it.

English-language learners have limited access to some of the 186 small high schools that are part of a small-schools initiative launched by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in the New York City school system, says a report by two immigrant-advocacy groups.

Out of 183 small high schools studied during the 2005-06 school year, 93 had a population of English-language learners that was less than 5 percent of the student body, compared with the 12 percent of all high school students in New York City who are classified as English-learners, according to the report. It was produced by the New York Immigration Coalition and Advocates for Children of New York.

More than 40 percent of teachers of English-language learners in California public schools have had little or no professional development in the past five years to help them teach those students, concludes a study by researchers at the University of California, Davis.

About 43 percent of teachers whose classrooms were composed 50 percent or more of students learning English had taken no more than one in-service training session about instruction of such students in that time span, according to the study. It based its findings on a 2004 survey of 4,500 classroom teachers in 22 school districts. The report also found that half of new teachers who were required as part of their induction to take some in-service training focused on English-language learners had done so.

The No Child Left Behind Act is devaluing bilingual education and failing to address the needs of language-minority students because of the law’s heavy emphasis on English-only programs and high-stakes testing, concludes a report released last week.

The report, conducted by Arizona State University’s education policy studies laboratory, suggests that prior to the passage of the education law in 2001, the federal government had progressively taken steps toward meeting the needs of English-language learners. But since then, the report says, that commitment has eroded.

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Among other criticisms, the report says the federal education law forces English-language learners to take standardized tests in a language in which they are not yet proficient.

At the elementary school level, the nation’s English-language learners are largely concentrated in a relatively small number of schools, according to a study.

Produced by the Washington-based Urban Institute, the study found that nearly 70 percent of elementary-level English-language learners are enrolled in 10 percent of the nation’s elementary schools. The researchers also noted that nearly half–43 percent–of the nation’s elementary schools don’t have any students with limited proficiency in English. The study defines schools with a high number of limited-English-proficient students as those in which such students make up at least 23.5 percent of enrollment.

Arizona’s English-language learners do increasingly better on the state’s standardized academic tests during each of the first three years they participate in special programs to learn English, but their performance on those tests stagnates or declines if they stay in those programs for more than three years, a policy brief by the Arizona Center for Public Policy concludes.

The authors of the study say that such a finding shows that students don’t continue to benefit from special programs to learn English after a certain amount of time, which they argue has implications for how such programs should be funded.

English Learners in California: What the Numbers Say

The more time that English-language learners spend in U.S. schools, the more likely they are to pass the English section of California’s high school exit exam, with the exception of students who have repeated a grade, according to a report by EdSource, a Mountain View, Calif.-based nonprofit education research organization.

But more time in school doesn’t lead to higher passing rates on the math section of the test, the report says.

It also notes that school districts’ rate of reclassifying students each year as fluent in English doesn’t necessarily correspond with how well students perform on state tests. For example, in the Natomas Unified School District in Sacramento, 6 percent of English-language learners were reclassified as fluent in English during the 2006-07 school year, but 54 percent of ELLs scored as proficient on the state’s English-language proficiency test.

 

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